8. Chicks Have Arrived!
On the afternoon of Friday, June 17, the eggs in Nest 1 began to hatch. The parents took turns sitting on the eggs/chicks and feeding around the exclosure. Every now and then the parent on the nest would wiggle and fluff its feathers, and a chick would pop out of the nest.
One of the chicks was braver than the rest, and ventured outside the exclosure. It wasn't quite ready for the big world of the beach just yet, though. It would run a few steps, then sit down or topple over. After a few moments, the chick returned to the safety of the exclosure.
As we watched, the mother bird (F2) returned to the nest, and Flag Boy prepared to leave to forage for food. Before he left the exclosure, he picked up a piece of egg shell in his beak, and carried it out away from the new chicks. This is a common practice, and empty shells can be found after hatching at varying distances from the exclosure. It is believed that removal of the shells helps to keep predators away from the chicks.
Flag Boy had to set the egg shell down a few times along the way, but eventually found a safe spot for it, and left it a good distance from the nest.
He did not seem to be overly interested in finding food for himself, but stayed within the roped perimeter watching over his new family. At one point he chased a Crow away from the back of the exclosure, and for about half an hour he and F2 stood very still, away from the nest, while 2 chicks flattened themselves on the sand beside the nest. It was as though they sensed danger. After 30-40 minutes of "being statues", all 4 visible Plovers went back to business as usual. When I left the beach at about 9:00 p.m., Mom was on the nest with at least 3 chicks under her, and Dad was resting a short distance away.
The next morning around 6, according to Don, the female was sitting on the nest, and chicks were out and around a bit, but it was hard to tell how many there were. When I arrived at around 8:15, Flag Boy had his 4 chicks near the shore in the middle of the perimeter. They were checking out the new huts that arrived last week, and were also feeding on small insects and "shore bugs". Hard to believe that they had been inside their eggshells less than 24 hours before these pictures were taken!
Their long legs carry them quickly around the beach in search of food almost as soon as they hatch and dry. However, their bodies almost seem top-heavy when they are new to the world, and they often tipped over, or sat down with legs stretched out in front of themselves for a rest.
In the photo below, Flag Boy had piped a bit to call them in, and one of the chicks came running so quickly that it rolled right over on its back with its feet in the air -- and stayed that way for several seconds. Notice the chick on the far left. It was not quite ready to listen to Dad. In the time that I was there, this chick was frequently on its own, seeming to want a little more independence than the others, and not afraid to venture out on its own.
For several hours, the chicks continued to eat and sit with their father (well, 3 of them sat and 1 didn't!), and run on their too-long legs.
As the morning wore on, and there was no sign of F2 returning to take a shift with the chicks, Flag Boy seemed to become increasingly agitated. He would chase the Gulls, check on the chicks, and run to the shore to eat, only to return several minutes later to check in with his family. He appeared to be hungry, but was unwilling to leave the chicks unattended.
I was standing at the south edge of the perimeter, and was quite unprepared for Flag Boy's next actions. He rounded up all 4 chicks, and, piping, herded them in my direction. As they approached the rope, I carefully took several steps back. He piped a few more times, made sure the chicks were all there, then ran to the shore to feed. I sat where I was and watched over his family while he went and foraged for much-needed sustenance.
You can see how close the rope is, and I had backed up 20-ish ft:
Flag Boy returned when some people walked toward the chicks from the shore, and coaxed his little ones back toward the centre of the perimeter.
I have no idea what really happened in those minutes, but I am allowing for the possibility that maybe, in his hunger, this little father briefly entrusted his family to my care-- a privilege indeed.
I left the beach at around 11:30 a.m., and there was still no sign of the chicks' mother. She has not appeared for several days now, and it is feared that she was predated (possibly by a Fox that has been seen most mornings in the area -- or a Merlin --- or ???) the morning after her chicks hatched. Flag Boy has proven himself to be an excellent father, and we will hope that he can fledge 4 little ones on his own.
In other beach news, adult Plovers and nests have not fared well over the past short while at Sauble. At Nest 2, MNRF staff have excavated the site where 4 embryos were lost to wind, high waves and sand, but were not able to recover them. The Plovers had also tried immediately after the storm, to no avail. This nest site was close to the shore, and one thing that might have helped would have been sandbags placed along the shore side of the nest. As sandbagging is not a practice that is advocated by MNRF, we will never know. M1 and F1 have been courting and mating in the area, and may decide to re-nest in the same area. There are no eggs yet...
The third nest on the beach was abandoned by the female (F4 - Ms. Green Dot) after her partner (M3 - our Mr. Lonely) went missing. It is likely that he was predated last week. The female bird tried to incubate the eggs herself, but abandoned after a day or so. In some places, eggs/embryos from an abandoned nest (belonging to birds of a Threatened Species) are taken and incubated, and the chicks are captive-reared until they are able to fly. Michigan, with the help of the Detroit Zoo, has had good success with this method.
The eggs from Nest 3 are being collected Monday by MNRF for analysis at Guelph University or being donated to the ROM.
Birds are amazingly resilient, and when Ms. Green Dot realized that Mr. Lonely was not returning, she decided to hook up with Port Boy. We will see if they are able to establish a late nest. Of course there are many stresses associated with second nestings, but we hope they will be able to be successful.
At the present time,they seem to be disagreeing about whether to nest in her old site or his site further north on the beach. He seems to be winning the argument with a nice little scrape north of 6th St.
Ms. Green Dot:
They do make a handsome couple, and Port Boy is beside-himself-happy to finally have a mate.
So....... there has been good news and bad news on the beach this week. The best news of all is that 4 brand new little Piping Plovers have arrived. We wish them the best as they struggle to make their way to adulthood on the beach.